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Straight From the Heart: Bariatric nurse can relate to patients

A photo of Tammy prior to her weight loss.

On her ID badge, Tammy Beaumont, BSN, RN, BC, recently added a CBN (Certified Bariatric Nurse) from the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. Underneath, she has something else unusual—her photo at twice her current weight.

Q: You’re a bariatric nurse and clinical coordinator of Arlington, Texas, Memorial Hospital’s bariatrics program. “Bariatric” is used to refer to surgery, to describe obese patients, and to their specialized care. Which is correct?
A: All of the above. It’s a branch of medicine to prevent, control and treat obesity. It’s a misconception to associate it just with surgery.

Q: “Bariatric nurse” once reflected your weight, not your specialty. Before your surgery, how did obesity affect you professionally, and would it have cut your career short?
A: Before surgery in 2003, I weighed 266 pounds, now I weigh 130 to 135. I was always tired and it impacted my knees. I put all my energy into my patients; otherwise, I was a zombie.
I moved from the bedside to education absolutely because I couldn’t spend that many hours on my feet. Obesity definitely has an impact on floor nurses and shortens their career at the bedside. Not just nurses – a lot of patients are on disability because of their weight.

Q: How did it affect you personally?
A: I had high blood pressure and was on the slippery slope towards diabetes. I gave up softball and sports. I shortchanged my personal life and family because there was no energy left for them. I’m 45 now, I hike and bike, and I get on the floor to play with kids.

Q: We all have to eat from birth, but people who smoke, drink alcohol, or use drugs make a conscious decision to start, and continue, despite knowing the consequences. Yet part of our society is angry and offended by people who are obese, and characterize them as weak, selfish gluttons. At the same time, our culture seems to actively admire people who are financially greedy, and consider hard alcohol sophisticated. We often tolerate smoking and substance abuse unless it directly harms others. Why isn’t it the other way around?
A: There is more contempt for the obese than the others, a belief that food gluttony is a sin when the others vices aren’t as bad. People who are slender are treated better, not looked at with disgust.
Sensitivity is imperative for all nurses so patients don’t feel like lepers or disliked because they’re overweight. There’s a perception that they’re fat, lazy, have no willpower or self-control. The bottom line is it’s all based on genetics, environment, lifestyle and so many other contributing factors. I didn’t have an alarm system in my brain to say I was full, to stop eating.

Q: When did you consider having gastric-bypass surgery?
A: I became a med-surg nurse in 1999 and my unit got post-op gastric-bypass patients. I had bad, negative perceptions because all I saw were the people who had complications, not the many more who didn’t. My perceptions were skewed until a coworker’s surgery was successful.
Patients can fail the surgery, but it’s now mostly laparoscopic, not open surgery, so you don’t have as many infections or incision dehiscence.

Q: What does “the patient can fail the surgery” mean?
A: It’s always possible that the surgery can fail, but that’s usually diagnosed and fixed. The patient can fail the surgery by continuing to overeat and fighting the symptoms when the pouch is full, either by throwing up, or if the pouch holds more food than it’s designed to, the opening to the intestines stretches. Patients can also fail by grazing, eating small quantitative all day long, instead of the recommended five meals or three meals plus two snacks. If you’re grazing, you’re never full, the brain never gets the message, you never get the feeling of satiety, but you can get a lot of food and calories that way.

Q: What’s the value of a bariatric nurse who was a patient?
A: They meet me first, and see someone successful. You appreciate what they’re going through. Most nurses have book knowledge and experience with other patients. Only a small percentage had the surgery, and it enhances the program by allow patients to see someone who endured the same struggles and the same experience.
From the beginning, good bariatrics programs tackle psychological and behavioral issues with coping mechanisms and distraction techniques … afterwards, [patients] have to cope with their emotional upheaval without foods they used for comfort and self-soothing.
Unlike photo “results are not typical” disclaimers, what you see is what you get. I’m proud of myself, my position and my program. I want to lead by example, and take patients down the same road to success.

By | 2008-02-11T00:00:00+00:00 February 11th, 2008|Categories: Regional, South|0 Comments

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